Long before a snippet of Christian Bale yelling could become a viral Internet sensation within milliseconds, there were the "Shut Up Little Man!" compilations, sacred objects of audio-vrit vitriol passed from hipster hand to hipster hand. Having overheard the vicious arguments between their next-door neighbors---a homophobic alcoholic and his gay roommate---San Francisco residents Mitch Deprey and Eddie Lee Sausage started taping these profane, drunken tte--ttes for their own amusement in the '80s. A cassette ended up being dubbed and circulated throughout the college-rock underground; soon, the editor of a popular zine, Bananafish, asked Mitch and Eddie if he could help release a proper album of these found-sound rants. What was once a goof soon turned into something that was sampled in songs, adapted into a play and, at one point, almost gave birth to two competing movie projects.
Matthew Bate's doc does an expert job on tracing the evolution of SULM! from lark to "art," and how a cult formed around two middle-aged lives of loud desperation. Then tenuous, halfhearted connections are made between the immorality of it all and today's cultural crassness---and that's where this portrait starts to lose the plot. For once, trying to expand into a bigger exploration of the zeitgeist actually proves to be a misstep; the movie works best when it simply shuts up and concentrates more on the anatomy of a prank gone pop phenomenal.
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Watch the trailer